Lot 221 Detail
Extremely Rare Silver-Mounted Japanese Snaphaunce Pistol, c. 1650
.54 caliber, 5 1/2-inch octagonal barrel with flared and molded muzzle set with
foresight, The barrel was probably forged in the same technique as swords of the region by
using successive thin layers of steel laminated to produce a stronger material. The breech
fitted with gilt-brass straps (for securing barrel to stock) and gilt-brass triggerguard.
The lock is modeled on the European snaphaunce lock circa 1620-30. An ornately chiseled
mechanism, depicting a three-clawed Dragon, symbol of hidden knowledge and supernatural
power, and incorporating a Buddhist ceremonial sword encrusted in silver on the battery
bridle. The fine relief work is related to that of a much-prized school of Tsuba design
common during the 17th-century which suggests it may have been created by an accomplished
artist of that discipline. The brass-covered pan is similar in design to many Japanese
matchlocks of the period. The finely carved hardwood stock is superior in design and
execution, reflecting the height of the gun-making art in 17th-century Japan.
Condition: Excellent, repaired fine crack at fore-end along
Note: The first Portuguese traders arriving in Japan in 1543 brought with them
matchlock firearms which greatly impressed the Japanese shoguns and officials. An account
of the early expeditions records that six and a half months after the presentation of a
single musket to the ruler of Nagasaki, local craftsmen had produced six hundred
representative copies and that by the mid 1550s there were over three hundred thousand
examples throughout the Japanese empire. The ease with which the matchlock mechanism could
be reproduced and the fact that Japan remained a closed society for centuries made
advancements in firearms near non-existent, despite the fact that the flintlock system had
been in use by the Portuguese until their expulsion from Japan in 1639. The lack of any
mention of flintlocks in Japanese records of the period emphasizes the rarity of this
early snaphaunce pistol strongly suggests that it was once the property of a high-ranking
government official or shogun.
A testimonial letter written by Mr. Ian Bottomley Senior Curator, Oriental Department,
Royal Armouries, Leeds, praising the quality of this pistol accompanies this lot. Mr.
" I have never seen a Japanese gun having such a lavishly decorated lock and stock;
this is really spectacular. At best there might be a little engraving of scrolls and
tendrils on the lockplate with perhaps some lacquer decoration on the stock but nothing
Provenance: William Goodwin Renwick Collection.
Estimate: $20000 - $30000